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Amarcord
Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Federico Fellini & Tonino Guerra
Stars: Pupella Maggio (Miranda Biondi, Titta’s Mother), Armando Brancia (Aurelio Biondi, Titta’s Father), Magali Noël (Gradisca), Ciccio Ingrassia (Teo, Titta’s Uncle), Nando Orfei (Patacca, Titta’s Uncle), Luigi Rossi (Lawyer), Bruno Zanin (Titta Biondi), Gianfilippo Carcano (Don Baravelli), Josiane Tanzilli (Volpina), Maria Antonietta Beluzzi (Tobacconist), Giuseppe Ianigro (Titta's Grandfather), Ferruccio Brembilla (Fascist Leader), Antonino Faa Di Bruno (Count Lovignano)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1973
Country: Italy / France
Amarcord: Criterion Collection DVD
Amarcord Federico Fellini’s Amarcord opens and closes with the arrival of the puffballs, which signals the beginning of spring. At various points in the film, other elements--rain, snow, intense sunlight--pour from the sky, signaling the changing seasons and the quick progression of time. It gives the film, which is little more than a series of sharply observed comic vignettes loosely connected by location and a few recurring characters, a sense of form and shape.

Amarcord (the title literally means “I remember” in the dialect of Emilia-Romagna, the region in which the director was born) is Fellini’s quirky look back at his own childhood in the Italian seaside town of Rimini in the 1930s. But, being a Fellini film, it is hardly a straightforward look back to the past; Fellini eschews the nostalgic fondness of autobiographical detail for elements of the cartoonish and the carnivalesque, the surreal and the quirky. Amarcord is less about a specific past than it is about how one might remember and understand that past, filtered through life’s experiences--its ups, its down, its tragedies, its triumphs. The overall tone of Amarcord is one of bemused humor laced with scathing satire of provincial life’s willingness to bow to fascism.

Fellini’s screenplay (which he cowrote with the prolific screenwriter Tonino Guerra, with whom he would later work on two other films) is structured around individual events, rather than the cause-and-effect linkages that would bring all those events together into a coherent narrative. This is not to say that the film does not have form; in fact, especially considering the majority of Fellini’s increasingly bizarre output in the 1970s, Amarcord is one of his most accessible films.

If one could say there is a central character in the film, it is the Biondi family, which Fellini draws in broad, humorous strokes, yet still leaves room for unexpected affection and love. The father (Armando Brancia) is loud and brash, and his wobbly position as head of the family is visually satirized by his bald dome and a large, raised mole on the top of his head. The mother (Pupella Maggio) struggles to maintain composure in holding the family together, yet is ultimately just as loud and quick-tempered. Her brother, Patacca (Nando Orfei), is a budding fascist who eats dinner with a hairnet. And then there’s Titta (Bruno Zanin), the teenage son who frequently incurs his father’s wrath just for existing. Titta is what might be labeled the “Fellini surrogate,” as he represents life’s potential in all its awkward, optimistic, sexually excitable glory.

The best scenes in Amarcord are the ones in which Fellini takes fascism to task, reducing it to a ridiculous ideology based largely on immaturity. In a well-known essay titled “The Fascism Within Us,” Fellini compared fascism with adolescence, an apt comparison if ever there were one. Fellini depicts the fascists as trite and silly, and their attempts at cruelty and intimidation (like force-feeding castor oil to enemies, an actual practice) come across like schoolyard bullying of the most desperate variety. Their overblown ideology and wayward sense of self-importance is best exemplified in an extended parade sequence, which culminates with a giant, flower-encrusted Mussolini face being raised for worship even as the entire event is reduced to a budding fascist-adolescent’s fantasy about marrying his dream girl. Even fascism cannot control the id.

And, as it does in most of Fellini’s films, sexuality runs rampant throughout Amarcord, perhaps enhanced by the haze of memory. We get caricatures like Volpina (Josiane Tanzilli), the town’s purring, barefoot nymphomaniac, and Gradisca (Magali Noël), who is the local hairdresser but, considering the way she holds herself and the way people treat her, might as well be a movie star. Fellini’s obsession with large breasts and big rear ends runs into near absurdity, supplying the film with some of its funniest moments, including the scene in which Titta gets more than just an eyeful of the cartoonishly busty woman who runs the tobacco store (Maria Antonietta Beluzzi).

With its bright, sharp cinematography and beautiful score by Fellini regular Nino Rota, it is sometimes a little too easy to just sink into the spell Amarcord casts, seeing it primarily as a wistful-funny dream of times past. Yet, as much as the film works on this level, it is also a scathing indictment of both repressive authority and common people’s willingness to submit to it. The town goes about its life as Mussolini’s dictatorship reaches the zenith of its popularity, and even though Fellini mocks the fascists and all that they stood for with a tone of wink-wink absurdity, it is hard not to see the specter of World War II just over the horizon, casting a looming shadow that would swallow the world.

Amarcord Criterion Collection Special Edition Two-Disc DVD Set

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
AnamorphicYes
Audio
  • Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • Subtitles English
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke
  • U.S. release trailer
  • Deleted scene
  • Fellini’s Homecoming, new 45-minute documentary
  • Video interview with star Magali Noël
  • Fellini’s drawings of characters in the film
  • “Felliniana,” a gallery of Amarcordephemera
  • Audio interviews with Fellini, his friends, and family by Gideon Bachmann
  • New restoration demonstration
  • Insert booklet featuring a new essay by scholar Sam Rohdie and the full text of Fellini’s 1967 essay “My Rimini”
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    SRP$39.95
    Release DateSeptember 5, 2006

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    As with Criterion’s other recent reissues (including Seven Samurai, Playtime, and Brazil), this new remastered version of Amarcord is a decided improvement over the originally available disc, which dates back to 1998. The new high-definition transfer was made from a 35mm interpositive, and it looks fantastic. In addition to being upgraded to an anamorphic transfer, the new image is brighter, sharper, and contains far less digital and grain noise than the original transfer did (notice how much smoother the skies are). Improved digital restoration tools have also cleaned up the image even more, leaving it free of virtually all dust, nicks, and scratches. The monaural soundtrack, transferred, from a magnetic track print at 24-bit, also sounds extremely good. The track is clean and clear, and Nino Rotta’s beautiful score really shines, even in the limited one-channel mix. The disc includes both the original Italian soundtrack and a not-terribly-bad English dub.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    Along with the improved sound and image, Criterion has also bulked up the supplements substantially (the original 1998 release only included a restoration demonstration, unless of course you count “animated menus” as a supplement, which are embarrassingly touted on the back cover). There are so many supplements, in fact, that the release has been expanded to two discs.

    The first disc includes an indispensable audio commentary by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke, both of whom are experts in Italian cinema in general and Fellini in particular. Their commentary is rich with observations, analysis, background information, and biographical details that really help the film come alive (they tend to read a lot of the film with a Freudian slant, especially the fascist parade scene). The first disc also includes the U.S. release trailer and a brief deleted scene that has no sound.

    The second disc opens with Fellini’s Homecoming, an excellent new 45-minute documentary that interviews many of Fellini’s friends and his biographer to sort out his complex relationship with his past. Fans of Fellini’s films will have much to savor here, as his friends speak fondly and candidly about the great director. There is also a 15-minute video interview with star Magali Noël, who discusses her experiences working with Fellini (she also had roles in La dolce vita and Satyricon). A stills gallery of Fellini’s drawings of the film’s characters shows how his artistic skills (he started his career as a cartoonist) were central to how he envisioned his films. Drawings here include all the major characters, as well as several locations. “Felliniana” is an extensive gallery of Amarcord ephemera, including photographs, posters, lobby cards, and press materials, from the collection of Don Young, who has collected more than 2,000 Fellini-related items since 1994. The disc also included two lengthy audio interviews recorded by film critic Gideon Bachmann, one with Fellini and another with his friends and family. A new restoration demonstration that compares the 1998 transfer with the new one rounds out the disc. The insert booklet is particularly notable because it contains the full text of Fellini’s 1967 essay “My Rimini,” much of which was used directly in the film and until now has been hard to obtain in English.

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection


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